2008 Inductee: Melrose RFC and Ned Haig
IRB Hall of Fame - Induction No 8 - Melrose RFC and Ned Haig
Football of some kind has been played in Melrose, a little town in the Borders of Scotland, during the 17th century, more than 300 years before Rugby Football became the main pastime of the town folk. According to various accounts it was three Englishmen connected with the tweed trade, WH Hudson, RH Harrison and J Fraser, who started rugby football in the area in 1876.
The first club was formed in Galashiels by both Melrose and Gala enthusiasts and the first match was played on 4 November 1876 on the Galashiels cricket ground. Equally important for the establishment of rugby in the area was the decision of the Highfield Academy Collegiate School in Melrose and Kelso High School to adopt the Rugby School rules. Galashiels FC, as it was called in September 1877, had about 60 members, half of which were from Melrose and around half from Gala, with all matches being played on the Galashiels cricket ground.
An attempt to share the home matches of the new club between Galashiels and Melrose led to a split and the formation of a new breakaway Melrose Football Club on 8 October 1877. The members from Galashiels withdrew and later formed their own club, the equally famous Gala RFC. The original colours of yellow and black were retained by the new Melrose club as well as the goalposts, which were moved from Galashiels to the new location at Greenyards Fields.
The first President of Melrose FC was Alexander Curle and the Secretary WH Hudson. The first match of the new club was against Hawick on 20 October 1877. In 1880, Melrose FC joined the Scottish Union and within five years it became one of the leading clubs in Scotland, with a solid fixture list that included Galashiels, Earlston, Hawick, Hawick St Cuthbert's Kelso, Fettes College, Edinburgh Institution, Watsonians, Royal High School and Edinburgh Wanderers.
During the 1879/80 season two talented players joined the club, the local butcher David Sanderson and his apprentice A Haig, known as Ned Haig. These were the days of the transition from the 20-a-side game to 15-a-side and Melrose fielded nine forward, two half backs, two three-fourth backs and two full backs.
Both of them commenced playing for the Melrose seconds and within a year both became mainstays of the first fifteen as quarter-backs - today's equivalent of scrum half and fly half positions. The 22-year-old Haig, born in Jedburgh, another town in the Borders not far from Melrose, on 7 December 1858 was scrum half and Sanderson the fly half.
The following season Sanderson made such a powerful impression on the Scottish selectors that he was invited to play in the East v West trial match, alongside the legendary Don Wauchope, the first player from the Borders to enjoy the honour of being selected for an International Trial. Furthermore he was a reserve quarter-back (probably fly half) for the Scotland XV for the season, another first for the Melrose man and Borders rugby.
Significantly, he became the club captain in 1881 and was followed by Haig in 1882, the third and fourth captains in the club's history. Both played for the club and both were selected for the District and South of Scotland against both Scottish and English clubs. In 1885 they featured at quarter-backs, in a combined Melrose & Galashiels fifteen described as "not only do these two tackle well, they checked well to the halfs."
The birth of Sevens
It appeared that a decision to increase the entry fee at the match against Galashiels in 1883 backfired, with the visiting supporters deciding to boycott the match. This had a negative effect on the club finances and the committee decided to hold a Sports Day to make ends meet.
Haig, at the time the club captain and who lived until 1939, subsequently recalled the meeting and its historic decision: "Want of money made us rack our brains as to what was to be done to keep the club from going to the wall, and the idea struck me that a football tournament might prove attractive."
The committee felt that given the numbers involved the proposal was unworkable. However, according to Melrose club historian and former Scotland international Les Allan, Sanderson reminded his apprentice and teammate of having played in some sort of reduced numbers tournament, while working on the English side of the border.
The solution became obvious, to cut down the size of the team from fifteen to seven players (three forwards, two half backs and two backs), and the playing time to 15 minutes in total (two halves of seven minutes each and one minute half time break).
The Melrose committee agreed unanimously to hold add a rugby tournament to the Sports Day, unaware of the historic significance of their decision.
The first Sevens tournament
Seven Border clubs - Gala, Selkirk, St. Cuthbert's Hawick, Earlstone, Melrose, Gala Forest and St. Ronan's Innerleithen - entered the tournament held on 28 April 1883 at the Greenyards, with the picturesque Eldon Hills in the background.
The Sports Day programme of events included foot races, dribbling race, drop goal and place kicking competitions, although the main attraction was the Sevens tournament. The Border Advertiser of 2 May 1883 read: "The competition has been looked forward to with great interest, as most clubs of the district were expected to compete for the prize - a silver cup presented by the Ladies of Melrose."
Not surprisingly the leading clubs in the district, Gala and Melrose, reached the final. The match between the two fierce rivals, which ended in a draw after 15 minutes of play, had an unexpected outcome that originated the sudden-death feature of the modern Sevens game.
Melrose Sevens historian Les Allan explains: "After playing the statutory 15 minutes, they decided to play extra time. Sanderson scored a cheeky blind-side try and, being captain, led his team from the field and claimed the Ladies Cup. Gala protested, but in vain."
The sudden-death rule stood the test of time to become a feature of today's game when the teams are level at the end of a match. Sanderson left with the Ladies Cup, which re-emerged in the Melrose Club museum, donated by a relative, after more than a century.
From 1884 onwards, the Melrose Sevens tournament was played for the second Ladies Cup, which has now joined the original in the Melrose club museum. The original Ladies Cup is the inspiration behind the Melrose Cup, the Rugby World Cup Sevens trophy commissioned by the Scottish Rugby Union.
The 1883 Melrose Sports winners from Melrose FC: Standing J Tacket, A Haig, J Simson, J Riddle; seated T Riddell, G Mercer and on floor, captain D Sanderson.
Sevens spread quickly in the Scottish Borders, with Selkirk, Gala, Hawick, Jedforest, Langholm, Kelso and Earlston following in the footsteps of Melrose and launching their own club tournaments. Since the 1885 Cup, Sevens Rugby has become a major feature both at the beginning and the end of the season in the Scottish Borders.
It is said that Nelson, the cradle of the New Zealand game, were the first to hold a School Sevens tournament outside of Scotland around the turn of the century, but the documentary evidence is scant. Instead, there is plenty of evidence that 1921 was the year Sevens Rugby took off internationally, with the North Shields Sevens at Percy Park in England and the Buenos Aires Sevens sharing the distinction of being pioneers of the international short game.
The Middlesex Sevens, launched by Dr Cargill, a Scottish member of the County Committee in 1926, became an attractive end-of-season event in England, but the biggest seven-a-side tournament in the world remains Rosslyn Park Sevens, launched in 1939 by the late Charles Burton, the founder of the Public School Wanderers, which every year attracts more than 300 school teams and over 3,500 schoolchildren from all over the world.
The world of Sevens
There was hardly a Rugby territory in the world without its own Sevens tournament and for a nearly a century Sevens Rugby remained a wonderful pastime, played by clubs and teams to wind up a long and demanding season or as a gentle build-up to the new one.
This went on until 1973, when the Scottish Rugby Union decided to celebrate its centenary in style with an international seven-a-side tournament, the first in history. The SRU Centenary Sevens gave a glimpse of the huge potential of the short game. Scotland v Australia at Murrayfield was the first match and has made history as the first ever international seven-a-side encounter, also on a Scottish playing field.
At the end of an exciting tournament, it was England who prevailed against strong opposition from a star-studded Welsh side, the Scots, New Zealand, Australia, France and a Barbarians side, to defeat a surprisingly competitive Irish team in the final.